Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 512 new cases; Pharmacies can safely test people with symptoms, Ontario health minister says

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

1:04 p.m. Pfizer (PFE) shares nudged higher Wednesday after the drugmaker said its long-serving CFO would step down in the coming months.

Frank D’Amelio will retire after a fifteen year career with Pfizer, the company said, and will stay on with the group while it searches for his replacement. In a parallel move, Pfizer said it will add its chief supply officer, Mike McDermott, to the executive leadership team starting in January of next year.

Pfizer also noted late Tuesday that it’s completed its submission to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for Emergency Use Approval (EUA) of Paxlovid, the group’s promising COVID antiviral treatment.

12 p.m. Ontario’s health minister says people with COVID-19 symptoms can be safely tested for the virus in pharmacies.

Safety concerns were raised in the legislature today about the proposed plan, but Christine Elliott says infection and control measures will be followed.

She says parts of rural and northern Ontario have a need for testing options, and precautions will be taken to keep people safe.

She also says there will be a list of participating pharmacies and signage posted outside so people know before entering the facility.

11:42 a.m. A pastor who attended a faith gathering that has been linked by health officials to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a seniors home in northern Nova Scotia says he believes organizers followed the rules as they understood them.

In an interview Tuesday, Brandon Lake, pastor of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Bridgetown, N.S., said he and about 20 members of his congregation were at the October event hosted by Gospel Light Baptist Church of Amherst, N.S.

That multi-day religious gathering was attended by “less than 100 people,” Lake said, adding that organizers believed they were following the government’s COVID-19 guidelines.

He said it was “unclear” at the time whether participants at faith gatherings were required to show proof of vaccination. The province’s health authorities, meanwhile, have said the organizers of the October event did not require attendees to show vaccination proof.

10:15 a.m. (will be updated) A person under the age of 20 is among 12 new COVID-19 deaths the province is reporting Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott says the government is sending its condolences to the family of the deceased, and won’t offer any more information out of respect for their privacy.

It comes as Ontario reports another 512 cases of COVID-19.

Elliott says 310 of today’s new cases are in people who are not fully vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.

She says 274 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, and 133 are in intensive care units.

10:12 a.m. An estimated 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in one year, a never-before-seen milestone that health officials say is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply.

Overdose deaths have been rising for more than two decades, accelerated in the past two years and, according to new data posted Wednesday, jumped nearly 30 per cent in the latest year.

Experts believe the top drivers are the growing prevalence of deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many drug users socially isolated and unable to get treatment or other support.

The number is “devastating,” said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University expert on drug abuse issues. “It’s a magnitude of overdose death that we haven’t seen in this country.”

10:06 a.m. 85 per cent of eligible Torontonians are now fully vaccinated, with both doses. The goal is 90 per cent fully vaccinated.

“Congratulations, Toronto! Many thanks to all of the frontline community and healthcare workers who are helping us get closer each day to our goal of 90% fully vaccinated,” tweeted Coun. Joe Cressy.

9:45 a.m. The World Health Organization says coronavirus deaths in Europe rose 5 per cent in the last week, making it the only region in the world where COVID-19 deaths increased. The U.N. health agency said confirmed cases jumped 6 per cent globally, driven by increases in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

In its weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, WHO said COVID-19 deaths in all regions other than Europe remained stable or declined, and totaled 50,000 worldwide last week. Of the 3.3 million new infections reported, 2.1 million came from Europe.

It was the seventh consecutive week that COVID-19 cases continued to mount across the 61 countries that WHO counts in its European region, which stretches through Russia to Central Asia.

8:45 a.m. Statistics Canada says the annual pace of inflation in October rose to 4.7 per cent.

The agency says it was the largest year-over-year gain in the consumer price index since February 2003.

The increase compared with a year-over-year increase in the consumer price index of 4.4 per cent in September.

8:42 a.m. A French elementary school in Mississauga has been told to close by Peel Public Health due to 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

A spokesperson from Peel Public Health said that nine students and three staff at École Élémentaire Catholique René-Lamoureux have COVID-19.

Six classrooms were closed prior to the school’s closure.

8:31 a.m. Hamilton is opening two more mass vaccination clinics to keep up with demand for boosters and prepare for the imminent approval of a COVID shot for kids.

Once the pediatric vaccine is approved, two-thirds of appointments will be reserved for kids age five to 11. The rest will mostly go to boosters for priority groups, including seniors age 70 and older.

Those age 12 and over needing first and second doses will continue to be able to walk into most clinics without an appointment.

8:10 a.m. The number of airline passengers traveling for Amerian Thanksgiving this year is expected to rebound to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, but the Transportation Security Administration says it is ready to handle the surge.

Administrator David Pekoske said Wednesday he expects agency staffing to be sufficient for what’s traditionally TSA’s busiest travel period.

“We are prepared,” Pekoske told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said travelers should expect long lines at airports and plan to spend a little more time getting through security.

In 2019, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving. But that plummeted in 2020 as the pandemic kept people at home.

8:05 a.m. Statistics Canada is scheduled to release October’s inflation rate Wednesday, in the shadow of economic warnings that the pace of price growth is likely to accelerate.

The annual inflation rate in September hit an 18-year high when the consumer price index registered a year-over-year increase of 4.4 per cent.

Factors for rising inflation include snarls in supply chains, bumps in prices at the pump and comparisons to lows seen one year earlier.

8 a.m. Hungary’s number of daily COVID-19 deaths and new officially recorded cases on Wednesday climbed to highs not seen since a devastating pandemic surge last spring.

Government figures showed 178 daily deaths and 10,265 new cases in the country of fewer than 10 million. The latter figure approached record pandemic highs set in March, while daily deaths were the highest since May 1.

The numbers reflected a worsening pandemic situation in the Central European country, which in spring had the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world.

7:30 a.m. Teachers, stop going to the police.

Toronto police are asking educators to stop filing complaints about their school boards’ COVID-19 vaccination policies.

To date, 53 staff with the Toronto District School Board, and three with the city’s Catholic board, have filed police reports.

“After reviewing the occurrences, no criminal charges will be laid,” said Toronto police spokesperson Connie Osborne. “This is not a criminal matter and we would ask that people do not report this to police.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Isabel Teotonio

5:50 a.m.: South Korea on Wednesday reported 3,187 new cases of the coronavirus, nearly matching a one-day record set in September, a worrisome development in a country that eased social distancing rules in recent weeks to lessen the pandemic’s economic impact.

The Delta-driven spread has raised questions about whether the country was too quick to ease pandemic restrictions at the start of November in what officials described as a first step toward restoring some pre-pandemic normalcy.

There has been a rise in serious cases and fatalities among senior citizens who rejected vaccines or people in long-term care settings whose immunities have waned after being inoculated early in the vaccine rollout, which began in late February.

Officials are now pushing to speed up the administration of booster shots for people who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago.

Wednesday 5:45 a.m.: Germany’s disease control agency reported 52,826 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as infection rates continue to climb.

The Robert Koch Institute said 294 more people died in Germany of COVID-19 since the previous day, bringing the country’s pandemic death toll to 98,274.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has called on doctors not to be too strict about waiting at least six months before giving patients vaccine booster shots.

Infections have shot up in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated people, with southern and eastern Germany the hardest hit.

Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.

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